It's All in the Hips

Defending the pass has been an Achilles heel for the Irish of late. Notre Dame's defense was exposed in the Fiesta Bowl by an explosive Ohio State offense. Notre Dame went out shopping for some top defensive backs in 2006 and signed five of their top prospects, but Irish head coach Charlie Weis knows it will take more than the 2006 recruiting class to get back to the top. The Irish need some top corner prospects this year and Columbia, S.C. native Gary Gray will certainly fit the bill.

In today's game with 6-5, 215-pound wide receivers, most defenses are looking for bigger corners to match up with these giants. If a corner doesn't have big size, he better be tough and he better be fast, and that's what you'll find when you watch film of Gary Gray.

Gray is listed at 5-11 on Scout.com, but I'd bet he's closer to 5-10. Does an inch really matter? As we've seen with some of the circus catches Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija made last year, it quite often does matter. But some players make up for lack of size with superior athletic skills, and Gray certainly has that.

Gray is kind of a jack-of-all-trades for Richland Northeast high school. You'll find Gray under center at quarterback, lined up at receiver, and as a cornerback. He also returns kicks and punts and always looks like the best athlete on the field.

When you watch Gray on film the first clips are of him as an offensive player. He's an option quarterback who makes a lot of things happen with the ball in his hands. Some comparisons might be made to current Irish corner Ambrose Wooden, but to me, Gray shows more quickness and appears more elusive than Wooden was on film. He also has played a lot more defense than Wooden did in high school

Hips, hips, hips and more hips….that's what you're looking for in a corner and Gray certainly has them. Why? You need guys who can turn quickly and effortlessly when playing corner. With receivers running routes and constantly turning left, right and cutting back and forth, you need a guy who can change direction effortlessly. I played corner. I didn't have good hips and it showed (lol). Watch Gray on film you definitely see a guy who can change direction and do it effortlessly.

You also want a guy who has speed….a guy who can explode and cover a lot of ground in a hurry. Why? When a receiver comes out of his break or final move, and is ready to receive the ball, you need a guy who can explode off his plant foot and cover a lot of ground in a hurry to defend the pass. If you watch Gray's film on both the offensive side of the ball and defensive side you'll see he has plenty of get-up-and-go. Watch how he turns on the jets and avoid defenders or get through traffic in a hurry. He takes one particular option play and just explodes through the entire defense in a flash. On some of his defensive clips a guy gets a step on him after his final move and Gray quickly makes up ground with his recovery speed to defend the pass. That's what the Irish need right there.

Gray also isn't the biggest guy, listed at 165 pounds on Scout.com. I'd say that looks about right based on his film and he'll need to get bigger. But even at 185 pounds he'll need to be very physical to play with the bigger receivers. We did see some clips of Gray against the run and showed the defensive-minded mentality you want to see. He certainly had no problem sticking his nose in any pile, and he came up in run support on a mission. He'll come up and smack anyone so that's a good sign.

We didn't get to see him play physical at the line of scrimmage in a bump-and-run situation, but I doubt we'll see him in that situation often in college. Gray probably projects more as a field corner, who will be asked to run with the opposition's best or fastest receiver. But playing physical isn't just about playing physical in a press coverage situation. The battle between receiver and defender while the route is in progress is vital to gain the step or position needed to receive a pass. The little pushes, grabs and shielding of the body that takes place is very important to both the receiver and defender. The good news is Gray definitely looks like the type that will fight you every step of the way.

Also, I was impressed with Gray's ability to jump. I didn't get to see a lot of clips of the Columbia, S.C. native jumping for the ball, but in the few I did, he out-jumped his man for the ball and came down with it. More importantly he was in position, on both offense and defense, to come down with the ball….something the Irish haven't been doing in the recent past on defense.

As always, a highlight film is just that. We can't say for sure how well Gray will progress in college, but we can get an idea of a few things. It appears Gray has the speed, hips and explosiveness to play corner. He also showed a knack for finding the football. If nothing else you know you'll have a great return man and offensive player by landing Gary Gray, and I could see him getting serious look on offense by some teams. I also think you'll find out he'll be a pretty good defender as well. It's all in the hips and Gray appears to have them.

The good news for the Irish is Gray will be in South Bend this weekend meeting the Irish coaching staff for the first time. We should get a good idea of how much Gray likes the Irish after this weekend.

Note: Click on Gray's name in this story if you want to watch his film on Scout.com.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories